Matthew Lombardi on the comeback trail

In some of the best NHL news we’ve heard in a while, newly acquired Maple Leafs forward Matthew Lombardi is making progress in his recovery from the concussion he suffered at the beginning of last season. At this time last year, many people (including myself) were looking at Lombardi as one of the best offseason acquisitions of the summer. His speed and underrated ability to score looked like a perfect fit for the Nashville Predators and their brand of hockey. What we didn’t know was that he was going to suffer a season-ending concussion on October 13th in Chicago when he, Dave Bolland, and the United Center boards all came together at the same time.

In the ten months since the concussion, Lombardi has seen his new team battle for a playoff spot, win their first series and franchise history, and battle the President’s Trophy winning Canucks in a hard-fought 6-game series—all while he was in the press box. Eventually, the speedy center’s time in Nashville was over as soon it started. Lombardi was traded with Cody Franson for Brett Lebda and Robert Slaney in a trade that can only be adequately termed as a salary-dump. The Predators were forced to give up Franson in order to get rid of Lombardi’s $3.5 million cap hit over the next two seasons. With his health in doubt, the Predators couldn’t afford to take the risk of $3.5 million sitting in the press box. It’s a gamble the Maple Leafs could afford to take.

If Lombardi is able to fully recover from his concussion, the trade will look like a steal for Burke and the leafs. Judging by a tweet from Darren Dreger yesterday, there’s reason for optimism:

“I’m told Leafs forward Mathew Lombardi is making progress. May not be ready for start of season, but isn’t far off… assuming no setbacks.”

Lombardi is only one of the major risks the Maple Leafs have taken on this summer. On the second day of free agency, Toronto went out and acquired often-injured free agent Tim Connolly from the Buffalo Sabres. The former 5th overall pick in had 13 goals and 29 assists in only 68 games for the Sabres. The 68 games is important—it’s the second highest total for Connolly since the lockout. Even though he was a durable forward for the New York Islanders early in his career, he only averaged 50 games per season in six seasons with the Sabres.

If Connolly can replicate the 65 points he scored in the 2009-10 season, it’ll go a long way towards helping the Leafs cure their offensive woes. They were 23rd in the league with only 2.60 goals per game; they were 22nd in the league with a relatively ineffective 16.0% power play. The guys over at the Maple Leafs blog Pension Plan Puppets seem to think the team will need a little more than just Lombardi and Connolly to compete this season:

“Ho boy! Two 50-point scorers on our top 2 lines? They’d fit right along with our…(checks stats) two 60+ point and two 55+ point players already there….hmmmmmm. Now don’t get me wrong, Connolly is absolutely an improvement over Bozak at the 1C position, but to imply that two 50-point players are what the Leafs need to finally get over the hump, one of which isn’t even skating, well that’s just silly. Especially considering that Joffrey Lupul was on pace for a 52-point 82 game season in a Leafs uniform, it’s going to take more than the addition of a 50-point 1C to get this team into the playoffs”.

There are things that Toronto management can control in the offseason and there are things they can’t. They made the calculated risk to bring in Connolly as a free agent and trade for Matthew Lombardi from the Nashville Predators. If they both can stay healthy, the two veteran acquisitions will be a boost to a team that desperately needs a few centers. Or top 6 forwards. Or both. The news that Lombardi is progressing should be greeted with cheers from all over Leafs Nation. If he can contribute this season, he’ll be a perfect fit for a team that would like to play with speed.

Here’s to hoping his rehab continues without any major setbacks.

Austin Watson suspended two games for boarding Dominic Toninato

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The NHL’s Department of Player Safety is working overtime on Sunday night, as they’ve handed out a pair of suspensions.

Moments after announcing Radko Gudas’ 10-game suspension, the league handed a two-game ban to Predators forward Austin Watson for boarding Avs rookie Dominic Toninato.

Unlike Gudas, Watson has no history of being fined or suspended during his NHL career.

Here’s the league’s full explanation of their decision to suspend Watson:

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Radko Gudas suspended 10 games for slashing Mathieu Perreault over the head

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We all knew that Radko Gudas would receive a suspension for his slash to the back of Jets forward Mathieu Perreault‘s head, but we didn’t know how long he’d be forced to sit out.

On Sunday, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety announced that Gudas has been suspended for 10 games for the incident.

The league confirmed that the fact that the Flyers defenseman is a repeat offender played against him in this case.

Check out the Department of Player Safety’s full explanation of the suspension:

The suspension will also cost him just over $408,000 in salary, per Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston. Ouch!

“He got the meaty part of the neck,” Perreault said after the game, per TSN.ca  “It could have been worse, I guess.

“He apologized in the penalty box, but when you look at the replay, it looks like he did it on purpose. It wasn’t an accident. He’s been known for doing stuff like that, so I certainly don’t appreciate it. I’m sure the league will take care of it.”

Gudas served the first game of the suspension on Saturday. He’ll be eligible to return to the Flyers lineup on on Dec. 12 against Toronto.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Flyers will host Penguins in outdoor game at Lincoln Financial Field in 2019

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The battle of Pennsylvania will take a new twist, as the NHL announced that the Philadelphia Flyers will be hosting the Pittsburgh Penguins at Lincoln Financial Field (home of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles) on Feb. 23, 2019.

This will be the second time that these two teams play each other in an outdoor game. Last season, the Penguins beat the Flyers, 4-2, at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

“It’s always a special opportunity to take the game back to its roots and have NHL players skate outdoors,” Penguins president and CEO David Morehouse said in a release. “We competed against the Flyers outdoors at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh 2017 and look forward to completing the in-state ‘home-and-home’ series at Lincoln Financial Field in 2019. It should be a great atmosphere.”

This will be the fifth time that the Penguins are involved in an outdoor door since 2008. They won a shootout decision against Buffalo (2008), they lost a home game to Washington (2011), they lost in Chicago (2014) and they beat the Flyers earlier this year.

It’s the second time the Flyers host an outdoor game (the first one was at Citizens Bank Park baseball stadium). The game at Lincoln Financial Field will be the fourth outdoor game for the Flyers. They lost in Boston in overtime (2010), they dropped home decision to the Rangers (2012), and they had the loss to Pittsburgh last year.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Is it time for the Canadiens to blow up their roster?

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The 2017-18 season isn’t even two months old, and the Montreal Canadiens already find themselves at a crossroads. Is it time for them to start rebuilding?

The Canadiens, who are 8-11-2 after three straight losses to Columbus, Arizona and Toronto, have over $7 million in cap space, but they have nowhere to use it. They already traded a blue-chip prospect in Mikhail Sergachev over the summer, and it’s not like their prospect pipeline is overflowing with quality either.

Clearly, losing Andrei Markov and Alexander Radulov (for nothing) hurt this edition of the Canadiens.

The team just completed a six-game homestand  that they should have used to make up for their incredibly poor start to the year. Instead, they finished the stretch at the Bell Center with a mediocre 2-3-1 record (they barely beat Vegas and Buffalo, who were both playing their second game in two nights when they took on Montreal).

During the six-game home stretch, they managed to find the back of the net just 10 times (four of those goals came in the 5-4 loss to the Coyotes).

Up until this point, general manager Marc Bergevin has been unwilling to trade away his veterans for prospects and/or draft picks. That might be about to change, per Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos.

On Saturday’s “Headlines” segment, Kypreos mentioned that ownership and the front office will have a discussion about the direction of the team.

The one player that was singled out on the broadcast was Max Pacioretty, who has one year remaining (after this season) on his current contract.

Would the Canadiens be willing to move him? Maybe, but would they do so with the idea of a rebuild in mind? That remains to be seen.

You have to believe that Bergevin’s on thin ice. Despite being under contract until 2022, he has to be feeling the pressure right now. Montreal is a demanding hockey market, and although they have plenty of cap space, this team clearly isn’t better than it was last year.

The core is far from terrible. Pacioretty, Shea Weber, Carey Price and Jonathan Drouin are all quality hockey players, but they don’t have much depth up front and their defense might be one of the worst in the league after Weber. Jeff Petry has struggled, the contract they handed out to Karl Alzner appears to be a mistake, Jordie Benn, Joe Morrow and Brandon Davidson are all depth players, and Victor Mete is a promising 19-year-old that’s had his ice time cut lately.

When it comes to the center ice position, the Canadiens are still searching for answers. Drouin has been forced to learn on the job, which is far from ideal for a number one center. Behind him, there’s Phillip Danault and Tomas Plekanec, who are both better suited to be third liners.

In order to become one of the elite teams in the NHL, the Canadiens have to take a step back over the next couple of years. They might not have to rebuild from scratch because they do have key pieces, but the roster definitely needs a lot of work.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.